12 May 2020

Petition to keep Air NZ base in Nelson attracts 16,000 signatures

4:21 pm on 12 May 2020

A petition supporting the retention of an Air New Zealand maintenance base in Nelson has attracted 16,000 signatures.

Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith on Tahunanui Beach

Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The airline recently announced it planned to move a large portion of its turboprop engineering base from Nelson to Christchurch, resulting in the loss of 100 skilled jobs in the region.

Motueka businessman Willie Snowden launched the petition, which was handed to Nelson MP Nick Smith outside the maintenance base at Nelson Airport this morning.

Smith would take it to Parliament tomorrow, in a bid to draw attention to the importance of the facility, and the lack of government investment in an important provincial industry.

He said the government was in a position to help, through its financial interest in the airline.

"The government is providing $900 million of support for Air New Zealand and we think it's appropriate that that be tagged to the retention of jobs and services to the regions."

Smith said they understood the need to temporarily down-size the facility, given the scale of the downturn in aviation, but the region wanted to see the opportunity for the turboprop base to remain in Nelson as the aviation industry recovered.

He said a petition of 16,000 from a region the size of Nelson was "huge", and expressed the depth of feeling people had over retaining the facility.

The engineering base had its roots in the former Air Nelson maintenance plant, before the commuter airline was bought by Air New Zealand as a Link operator.

"Over the last two decades the region has built a real cluster of aviation skills and that will be gutted if Air New Zealand's proposal goes ahead."

Smith said Nelson's contribution to the $900m government support package amounted to $18m of tax payer funds, and it was a "real slap in the face" to be the fall-guy for major job losses on the engineering front.

He said neither did it makes sense that Air New Zealand was planning to spend $15m on a new hangar in Auckland, while being prepared to sacrifice its $12m investment in the Nelson facility.

Smith said the region's civic leaders had joined the effort to help keep the base operating at full capacity in Nelson.

"We think there is a way forward for Air New Zealand to retain this regional facility - it's efficient, it's been doing a significant amount of international work and, most importantly for Nelson, it provides a broader economic base of aviation skills alongside our other big industries like fishing, forestry and horticulture.

"It's the sort of thing Nelson needs to do more of."

Smith said the lack of interest from the government in investing in what amounted to a provincial growth project was disappointing.

"It's particularly odd that [Regional Economic Development Minister] Shane Jones, who has proclaimed himself as the champion of the regions, has been silent on an issue that is so significant for a region like Nelson."

Jones blamed the former National government for barriers the current government was facing.

"As the Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters told Parliament last week on my behalf we are constrained in our actions in relation to Air New Zealand due to the ownership model set up by the previous National Government."

However, Jones encouraged Air New Zealand to continue to engage with and listen to the leaders of the Nelson region.

"As the Regional Economic Development Minister I continue to take an interest in the fortunes of Nelson and the wider Tasman region."

Smith said the petition would be referred to the Transport Committee once it reached Parliament, and that would provide the chance for further scrutiny of Air New Zealand and hopefully of an alternative plan.

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